August 1: Signed, Zealed, Delivered


Amazingly, it wasn't until I was reading my son's collected Calvin and Hobbes that I realized that they were early modern figures too. Also: I've never liked the Red Wings, though not quite this much.

Owning the Harvard Classics is supposed to endow you with many cool qualities: distinguishedness, for example, and a general air of one who is truly edufied. We're talking an overall aristocratic veneer -- at the least, a faux finish, something that gives people the idea that you're on a first-name basis with one-named philosophers. Make sure you have your own brandy snifters, and nothing could be lacking, right?

Wrong, says John Calvin. Here's what you're lacking:
Our adversaries reply, that our pleading the word of God is a false pretence, and that we are nefarious corrupters of it. ... Indeed, they universally exert themselves for the preservation of their kingdom, and the repletion of their bellies; but not one of them discovers the least indication of sincere zeal.
Zeal! What the world needs now is zeal, sweet zeal! We who are on the other side of the Thirty Years War ("The mortality rate was perhaps closer to 15 to 20 percent, with deaths due to armed conflict, famine and disease") -- not to mention the other zeal-related destruction we've experienced first-hand -- might be forgiven if we're a little less willing to equate zeal = goodness, but Calvin slams the priesthood for caring about their bellies. (An unusual attitude, perhaps, for a Frenchman to have. Maybe that's why we was exiled.)

And if one of the characteristics of zealots is that they get people killed, we might wonder if they think there's much of a difference between the state of "being alive" and the state of "being dead." And, I suppose, if you believe in an eternal afterlife, the latter state would have to way trump the former; so what's so wrong with being despised? But, if so, why is Calvin so hung up on what the King of France thinks?
Wherefore I beseech you, Sire,—and surely it is not an unreasonable request,—to take upon yourself the entire cognizance of this cause, which has hitherto been confusedly and carelessly agitated, without any order of law, and with outrageous passion rather than judicial gravity.
Calvin's God, you may remember, was executed by the imperial power while the theocracy looked the other way, so naturally Calvin concludes that imperial power + theocracy is the form of government He prefers:
This is a cause worthy of your attention, worthy of your cognizance, worthy of your throne. This consideration constitutes true royalty, to acknowledge yourself in the government of your kingdom to be the minister of God. For where the glory of God is not made the end of the government, it is not a legitimate sovereignty, but a usurpation. and he is deceived who expects lasting prosperity in that kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, his holy word; for that heavenly oracle cannot fail, which declares that “where there is no vision, the people perish.”
For someone who didn't believe in works, Calvin sure seems preoccupied with the way things look. For myself, Tertullian's question might have been "Quid Athenae Hierosolymis?" (What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem, i.e., who needs book larnin' when you're saved), but I think the more pertinent question is what Rome, or Paris, or Washington have to do with it.

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